Post Assembly reflections, October 2018

4 Oct 2018 by Rev John Thornton in: Latest News

Dear Friends,

Greetings in the name of Christ.

It has been a few months now since the meeting of our National Assembly, and I have been asked by the Mid North Coast Presbytery Standing Committee to send a pastoral letter, particularly concerning the decision on Same Sex Marriage.

As reported by our two delegates at our August Presbytery meeting, the proposal for the church to hold two equal but distinct rites of marriage was strongly affirmed. The two understandings of marriage are:

“Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of a man and a woman to live together for life. It is intended to be the faithful lifelong union of a woman and a man expressed in every part of their life together. In marriage, the man and the woman seek to encourage and enrich each other through love and companionship.”

“Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of two people to live together for life. It is intended to be the faithful lifelong union of two people expressed in every part of their life together. In marriage, the two people seek to encourage and enrich each other through love and companionship.”

I have had several conversations with colleagues and church members in these past weeks, and have heard sincere and deep agreements from people, taking sides on one or the other of the above statements.

The issue is clearly a divisive matter, but I believe that this is a distinctive characteristic of the Uniting Church. We are a body of people able to listen respectfully to people who might hold an opposing view and yet we remain committed to moving forward as the pilgrim people of God. Unity in diversity can be a challenge but it is worth the effort.

The July Assembly also affirmed that Ministers and celebrants authorised by the Uniting Church in Australia may exercise freedom to decide whether the minister’s or celebrant’s religious beliefs allow the minister or celebrant to accept requests to celebrate marriages.

Further, the decision noted that Church Councils have the authority under Regulation 4.4.1 to permit or refuse the use of any property held for the use of the Congregation for the celebration of marriages, as authorised under the Marriage Act and according to the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Simply put, it is in the hands of the local Church Council – hopefully consulting with their congregation – as to the use of their property for the celebration of marriage. As it is also up to the conscience and belief of every UCA marriage celebrant as to their stance on marriage.

The MNC Standing Committee have asked me to stress the importance of every Church Council in our Presbytery having a policy on this matter. I am aware that some councils have already made a decision, while there are some others wrestling with the matter and it may be that others have not yet addressed it.

Many congregations across our Synod are probably of a more conservative theological persuasion, but if you scratch the surface I am sure that you will find many in those same congregations of a somewhat more liberal thinking.

The decision for some may sound easy but let me offer a thought. It is my experience through ministry in three different presbyteries over almost thirty years, that without exception members of  my congregations have had family members who are homosexual.

What will be our response when one of our senior faithful members comes to the church leadership, and tells us that their gay grandson has asked grandma, if he and his partner could get married in their lovely old rural church? 

It is unlikely that the church is going to be inundated with requests from homosexual couples to get married in our church buildings, but the above scenario is a very real one.

I want to ask that you take this matter seriously and think seriously about having a policy in place now, rather than struggling to make a decision on the run at some future time.

Should you require more help on this there are resources on our website and you are free to be in touch with your presbytery representative.

Grace and Peace

Rev John Thornton
Chair – Mid North Coast Presbytery